District Court May Not Entertain a Rule 60(b) Motion for Reconsideration of an Order Certifying a Class after Court of Appeals Denies Rule 23(f) Review — Issue Certified to Third Circuit

From In re Mercedes-Benz Tele Aid Contract Litig., 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 23624 (D.N.J. Mar. 15, 2010):

[T]he Court will certify an interlocutory appeal of *** [the issue] whether a district court may entertain a motion for reconsideration of an order certifying a class after a request for interlocutory appeal of that order pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(f) has been denied....

***

The only available means of asserting the pending motion [to decertify the class] *** is as a request for reconsideration pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b). "[I]t is well-established in this district that a motion for reconsideration is an extremely limited procedural vehicle." *** As such, a party seeking reconsideration must satisfy a high burden, and must "rely on one of three major grounds: (1) an intervening change in controlling law; (2) the availability of new evidence not available previously; or (3) the need to correct clear error of law or prevent manifest injustice." *** Having already ruled that there has been no intervening change in controlling law, the Court finds that neither of the other two grounds exists in this case. Mercedes does not point to any new evidence that was not available at the time of the Court's April 24, 2009 Opinion. Although it contends that the class should be decertified because the Court committed errors of law in that ruling, that assertion is belied by the fact that the Court of Appeals has already refused the company's request for interlocutory review under Rule 23(f). If the April 24, 2009 ruling did, as Mercedes claims, suffer from clear errors of law or create the danger of manifest injustice, the Court of Appeals could easily have addressed those deficiencies by granting interlocutory review. See Newton, 259 F.3d at 164 (stating that the Court of Appeals will exercise its discretion to grant interlocutory review in order to address "erroneous rulings" at the class certification stage). Thus, implicit in the denial of the company's request for interlocutory review was a holding that this Court's Opinion certifying the class would not justify a grant of reconsideration under Rule 60(b).

[Footnote 7] In addition to correcting erroneous class certification decisions, the Court of Appeals has repeatedly emphasized that it will grant interlocutory review under Rule 23(f) if the district court's decision "would effectively ... create excessive pressure to settle, or reach a novel or unsettled question of law." Hagan v. Rogers, 570 F.3d 146, 157-58 (3d Cir. 2009). *** Mercedes may be held liable for over $ 300 million if Plaintiffs prevail on their consumer fraud claim. In light of the extreme pressure to settle that such great potential liability will exert on Mercedes, the fact that the Court of Appeals refused the company's request for interlocutory review strongly implies its approval of this Court's reasoning in the April 24, 2009 ruling.

After a thorough review of the case law in this and other circuits, the Court has been unable to find a single case in which a district court entertained a motion for reconsideration of an order certifying a class after a request for interlocutory review of that order pursuant to Rule 23(f) was denied. As an issue of first impression, the Court finds that motions for reconsideration are barred under such circumstances. To hold otherwise would allow litigants to, at least in theory, receive relief from a district court that has already been denied by a court of appeals. The hierarchy on which our federal judicial system is based cannot countenance such a result. Therefore, the Court holds that it is powerless to grant reconsideration of its April 24, 2009 Opinion, and the Motion to Decertify the Class must be denied.

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